How to identify a drug by the imprint

Updated November 21, 2016

If you find a pill at the bottom of your purse or in an old pill holder, or if you've discovered a pill in your teen's belongings, you may want to identify it. Prescription and over-the-counter medications have an imprint--a word or a combination of symbols, letters and numbers imprinted on the pill. Exposure to moisture can ruin other identifiers, like the colour and original pill shape. However, the imprint will generally remain after the coating has worn off or some of the pill has disintegrated, making it a good tool for identifying a drug.

Place the unidentified pill in a plastic sandwich bag with a zipper closure. This will protect the pill from damage due to moisture.

Enter the drug's imprint information into a pill identification website. Also enter any other available information, such as shape and colour. The website will generate the drug type and dosage based on the imprint.

Check the pill imprint against prescription drug fact sheets that are provided with every prescription. These fact sheets include a photograph of the pill, along with information on the drug and its side effects.

Compare the pill's imprint to the imprint on other drugs in the home, including over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs. This is a good way to identify the pill if you suspect it came from your own medicine cabinet. If the pill looks the same and has the same imprint as another identified pill, it's a match.

Bring the pill to a local pharmacy and consult the pharmacist. Pharmacists have extensive knowledge in this area, and many have access to computer programs that enable them to look up a drug by its description, including the imprint code.

Consult a medication dictionary, which are available online, at bookstores and at libraries. These reference books contain a photo and description of the medication, along with information on the drug's use and side effects. If you have a suspicion about the type of medication, begin by researching these drugs. Otherwise, you'll need to flip through the book and compare the imprint to the drugs pictured.


Always save prescription drug inserts and fact sheets. This information can provide valuable information about the medication, in addition to an image of the drug, which can be used to help identify the pill. Medication dictionaries and pill identification websites often include information on drugs that are no longer in use, so this can be a good tool for identifying an old pill. Illegal drugs, like ecstasy, will often have an odd shape like a star. They may also have imprints of pictures or odd symbols.


Never take an unidentified drug. This could lead to a potentially deadly situation.

Things You'll Need

  • Plastic sandwich bag
  • Computer with Internet access
  • Transportation to pharmacy
  • Medication dictionary
  • Prescription drug inserts
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